The Hungarian Ground Force (or Army) is known as the "Corps of Homeland Defenders" (Honvédség). This term was originally used to refer to the revolutionary army established by Lajos Kossuth and the National Defence Committee of the Revolutionary Hungarian Diet in September 1848 during the Hungarian Revolution. In accordance with the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867, the Hungarians were allowed to have their own forces for homeland defence integrated within the Imperial Forces. The Honvédség became a specifically Hungarian Army within the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The term Honvédség is the name of the Hungarian military since 1848 referring to its purpose (véd in Honvéd) of defending the country. The Hungarian Army is called Magyar Honvédség. The rank equal to a Private is a Honvéd.
The Hungarian Air Force is the air force branch of the Hungarian Army.
The Hungarian tribes of Árpád vezér who came to settle in the Carpathian Basin were noted for their fearsome light cavalry, who conducted frequent raids throughout much of Western Europe (as far as present-day Spain), maintining their military supremacy with long range and rapid-firing reflex bows. Not until the introduction of well-regulated, plate-armored knight heavy cavalry could German monarchs stop the Hungarian armies.
During the Árpáds the light cavalry based army was transformed slowly into a western-style one. The light cavalry lost its privileged position, replaced by a feudal army formed mainly from heavy cavalry.
The Hungarian field armies were drawn up into an articulated formation (as it happened in Battle of Przemysl- 1099, Battle at Leitha- 1146, Battle of Morvamezo- 1278, 1349), in three main battle (formation) (1146, 1278, 1349). According to the contemporary sources and later speculations, the first line was formed by light cavalry archers (Battle of Oslava- 1116, 1146, 1260, 1278). Usually they started the battle followed by a planned retreat (1116, 1146, Battle of Kroisennbrunn- 1260). The major decisive battles of the Hungarian army were placed in the second or third lines consisted mainly of the most valuable parts of the army - in general heavy cavalry (1146, 1278, 1349).
The commanders of the Hungarian Kingdom's army used different tactics, based on a recognition of their own and the enemies' (Holy Roman Empire, Pechenegs, Uzes, Cumans, Mongols, Byzantine Empire) abilities and deficiencies.
The Hungarian knight army had its golden age under King Louis the Great, who himself was a famed warrior and conducted successful campaigns in Italy due to family matters (his younger brother married Joan I, Queen of Naples who murdered him later.) King Matthias Corvinus maintained very modern mercenary-based royal troops, called the Black Army. King Matthias favoured ancient artillery (catapults) as opposed to cannons, which were the favourite of his father, Johannes Hunyadi the ottoman-beater, victor of the Siege of Nándorfehérvár in 1456.
During the Ottoman invasion of Central Europe (between late 1300s and circa 1700) Hungarian soldiers protected fortresses and launched light cavalry attacks against the Turks (see hussars). The northern fortress of Eger was famously defended in the autumn of 1552 during the 39 day Siege of Eger against the combined force of two Ottoman armies numbering circa 120,000 men and 16 ultra-heavy siege guns. The victory was very important, because two much stronger forts of Szolnok and Temesvár had fallen quickly during the summer. Public opinion attributed Eger's success to the all-Hungarian garrison, as the above two forts have fallen due to treason by the foreign mercenaries manning them. In 1596, Eger fell to the Ottomans for the same reason.
In the 1566 Battle of Szigetvár, Miklós Zrínyi defended Szigetvár for 30 days against the largest Ottoman army ever seen up to that day, and died leading his remaining few soldiers on a final suicide charge to become one of the best known national heroes. His great-grandson, Miklós Zrínyi, poet and general became of the better known stratagems of 1660s. In 1686, the capital city Buda was freed from the Ottomans by an allied Christian army composed of Hungarian, Austrian and Western European troops, each roughly 1/3rd of the army. The Habsburg then annexed Hungary.
Under Habsburg rule, Hungarian hussars rose to international fame and served as a model for light cavalry in many European countries. Hundreds of thousands of forcibly enrolled Hungarian males served 12 years or more as line infantry during the 1700s-1800s in the Austrian Imperial Army.
Two independence wars interrupted this era, that of Prince Francis II Rákóczi between 1703 and 1711 and that of Lajos Kossuth in 1848–1849. Both times Hungarian armies were crushed by the Habsburgs, but the second time not until the help of mighty Czarist Russian armies was summoned to purge Józef Bem's second army from Transylvania, opening the path into the heart of Hungary. Sándor Petőfi, the great Hungarian poet became a MIA in the Battle of Segesvár.
After the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire in late 1918, the Red Army of the Hungarian commune-state (Hungarian Soviet Republic) conducted successful campaigns to protect the borders. However, the Hungarians Reds were eventually crushed by the Romanian, French and American Army, in the spring of 1919, during the Battle of Tisza.
When Serbian and French troops had broken the Thessaloniki front-line, Austria, Hungary, and Bulgaria were finally defeated. This way, Hungary came under occupation of Romanian, Serbian, American, and French troops. The leaving Romanian army pillaged the country: livestock, machinery and agricultural products were carried to Romania in hundreds of freight cars.
After World War I, in accordance with the Trianon Treaty, the Hungarian Army was limited to 35,000 men, there was to be no conscription, and the army was forbidden from having any tanks. The Hungarians were also not allowed to have an air force.
During the 1930s and early 1940s, Hungary was totally preoccupied with the idea of regaining the vast territories and huge amount of population lost in the Trianon peace treaty at Versailles in 1920. This required strong armed forces to defeat the neighbouring states and this was something Hungary could not afford. Instead, the Hungarian Regent, Admiral Miklós Horthy, made an alliance with German dictator Adolf Hitler's Third Reich. In exchange for this alliance and via the Vienna Awards, Hungary received back parts of its territories (lost due to the Trianon Treaty) from Yugoslavia, Romania, and Czechoslovakia. Hungary was to pay dearly during and after World War II for these temporary gains.
In March 1939, in order to gain territory , Hungary launched an invasion of the Slovak Republic during the brief Slovak-Hungarian War, to reclaim a part of the territory lost in the Treaty of Trianon.
The peacetime strength of the Hungarian Army was 80,000 men. On 1 March 1940, Hungary organized its ground forces into three field armies. The Hungarian Army fielded the Hungarian First Army, the Hungarian Second Army, and the Hungarian Third Army. With the exception of the independent "Fast Moving Army Corps" (Gyorshadtest), all three Hungarian field armies were initially relegated to defensive and occupation duties within the newly enlarged Hungarian state.
In April 1941, in order to gain territory, Hungary joined the Germans in the invasion of Yugoslavia.
On 22 June 1941, elements of the Hungarian Army (Honvéd or Honvédség) support the German invasion of the Soviet Union, Operation Barbarossa. In the late summer of 1941, the Hungarian "Fast Moving Army Corps" (Gyorshadtest} scored a huge success against the Soviets at the Battle of Uman. A little more than a year later and contrasting sharply with the success at Uman, was the near total devastation of the Hungarian Second Army on banks of the Don River in December 1942 during the Battle for Stalingrad.
During 1943, the Hungarian Second Army was re-built. The re-built army even experienced some success of its own. In late 1944, as part of Panzerarmee Fretter-Pico, it participated in the destruction of a Soviet mechanized group at the Battle of Debrecen. But this success proves too costly in men and materials. Unable to re-build again, the Hungarian Second Army was disbanded towards the end of 1944.
On 28 December 1944, a provisional government was formed with Béla Miklós as its Prime Minister. Miklós was the commander of the Hungarian First Army. He immediately ousted Prime Minister Ferenc Szálasi's government but most of the First Army sided with the Germans. The Germans, Szálasi, and pro-German Hungarian forces loyal to Szálasi fought on.
The Red Army completed the encirclement of Budapest on 29 December 1944 and the Battle of Budapest began and continued into February 1945. Most of what remained of the Hungarian First Army was destroyed about 200 kilometers north of Budapest between 1 January and 16 February 1945.
On 2 February 1945, the strength of the Hungarian Army was 214,465 men, but about 50,000 of these had been formed into unarmed labor battalions. The siege of Budapest ended with the surrender of the city on 13 February. But, while the German forces in Hungary were generally in a state of defeat, the Germans had one more surprise for the Soviets.
In early March 1945, the Germans launch the Lake Balaton Offensive with support from the Hungarians. This offensive was almost over before it began. By 19 March 1945, Soviet troops had recaptured all the territory lost during a 13-day German offensive.
After the failed offensive, the Germans in Hungary were defeated. Most of what remained of the Hungarian Third Army was destroyed about 50 kilometers west of Budapest between 16 March and 25 March 1945. Officially, Soviet operations in Hungary ended on 4 April 1945 when the last German troops were expelled.
Some pro-fascist Hungarians like Szálasi retreated with the Germans into Austria and Czechoslovakia. During the very last phase of the war, Fascist Hungarian forces fought in Vienna, Breslau, Küstrin, and along the Oder River.
On 7 May 1945, General Alfred Jodl, the German Chief of Staff, signed the document of unconditional surrender for all German forces. Jodl signed this document during a ceremony in France. On 8 May, in accordance wit the wishes of the Soviet Union, the ceremony was repeated in Germany by General Wilhelm Keitel. On 11 June, the Allies agreed to make 9 May 1945 the official "Victory in Europe" day. Szálasi and many other pro-fascist Hungarians were captured and ultimately returned to Hungary's provisional government for trial.
During the Socialist and the Warsaw Pact era (1955–1989), the entire 200,000 strong Southern Group of Forces was garrisoned in Hungary, complete with artillery, tank regiments, air force and missile troops (with nuclear weapons). It was by all means a very capable force that made little contact with the local population. Between 1949 and 1955 there was also a huge effort to build a big Hungarian army. All procedures, disciplines, and equipment were exact copies of the Soviet Red Army in methods and material, but the huge costs collapsed the economy by 1956.
After the autumn 1956 revolution was crushed in Budapest, the Soviets took away most of the Hungarian Army's equipment. A few years later, when offered a choice of withdrawal, the new Hungarian leader János Kádár asked for all the 200,000 Soviet troops to stay, because it allowed the socialist Hungarian People's Republic to neglect its own draft-based armed forces, quickly leading to deterioration of the military. Large sums of money were saved that way and spent on feel-good measures for the population, thus Hungary could become "the happiest barrack" in the Soviet Bloc.
Training for army conscripts was poor and most of those drafted were actually used as a free labour force (esp. railway track construction and agricultural work) after just a few weeks of basic rifle training. Popular opinion grew very negative towards the Hungarian Army and most young men tried to avoid the draft with bogus medical excuses.
The Hungarian armed forces has severely reduced the number of battle tanks in service, surplussed all tracked IFV A large number of garrisons were shut down, some of them sold to municipal authorities for peaceful uses.
In 1997, Hungary spent about 123 billion HUF ($560 million) on defense. Hungary became a member of NATO on March 12, 1999. Hungary provided airbases and support for NATO's air campaign against Serbia and has provided military units to serve in Kosovo as part of the NATO-led KFOR operation. Hungary has sent a 300 strong logistics unit to Iraq in order to help the US occupation with armed transport convoys, though public opinion opposed the country's participation in the war. One soldier was killed in action due to a roadside bomb in Iraq. The parliament refused to extend the one year mandate of the logistics unit and all troops have returned from Iraq as of mid-January 2005. Hungarian troops are still in Afghanistan as of early 2005 to assist in peace-keeping and de-talibanization. However Hungary has started replace the old rovers to IVECO LMV types. Hungarians deployed a really famous anti-material rifle named Gepard M6.
In a significant move for modernization, Hungary decided in 2001 to buy 14 JAS 39 Gripen fighter aircraft (the contract includes 2 dual-seater airplanes and 12 single-seaters as well as ground maintenance facilities, a simulator, and training for pilots and ground crews) for 210 billion HUF (about 800 million EUR). Five Gripens (3 single-seaters and 2 two-seaters) arrived in Kecskemét on March 21, 2006, expected to be transferred to the Hungarian Air Force on March 30.